Are Underhand Serves Underhanded? Tennis Is Opening Up to the Crafty Tactic

Chang went on to win the tournament, his only Grand Slam singles title, and more than 30 years later, it is that underhand serve that still sticks with those who remember his success; many mistakenly recall the Lendl match as the final.

But surprisingly, in a sport where success quickly generates imitation, Chang’s masterstroke did not start a trend. That is partly because of an unwritten code that framed the shot negatively, as an unsporting, showboating attempt to make an opponent look bad.

When Martina Hingis tried a couple of underhanders under duress against Steffi Graf in their tumultuous, irresistible French Open final in 1999, the French crowd turned against Hingis, who went on to lose.

After Chang, no man attempted it in a high-profile match for decades. Ivo Karlovic, a towering Croat with one of the best serves in history, tried one that worked against Tommy Haas in 2007. But generally, when somebody did attempt the shot, as the Frenchman Mikael Llodra did a few times during his career, he practically had to apologize.

“I was feeling so bad on court that I was just trying something fantastical to try to get a breath of fresh air,” Llodra said in 2011 after a lopsided loss to Robin Soderling.

Another French player, Virginie Razzano, also tried a few during the 2010s when she was struggling with her serve. So did Errani, who has struggled with hers throughout her career and has resorted to the tactic more than any active player.

On Wednesday, in a wild ride of a three-setter against Kiki Bertens, Errani served for the match at 6-5 in the third set and tried four consecutive service tosses without being able to pull the trigger. She finally went back to the underhand serve and lost the point. She later saved a match point with another underhander before losing, 7-6, 3-6, 9-7.

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